Cyber-bullying: Is school the place to deal with it?
Cyber-bullying: Is school the place to deal with it?

British Prime Minister Theresa May will pledge today more help to schools dealing with mental health issues including the impact of cyber-bullying.

As children spend more of their lives online, they are exposed to threats to their mental well-being from social media and predatory adults – threats that they are not necessarily equipped to deal with.

In a speech to the Charity Commission today, she will announce a package of measures to “transform mental health support” in schools, workplaces and communities.

Schools are a special focus of the transformation, to ensure that children get the help and support they “need and deserve because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood”, she is expected to say.

Every secondary school in the country will be offered “mental health first aid training”. Teachers at 1200 secondary schools – approximately a third of the total number – will be offered the training in the first year, with the rest to be offered it in the following two years.

The government will also trial ways of strengthening the links between schools and local NHS mental health staff.

The government will also accelerate the development of a digital mental health package which aims to help people suffering from stress and anxiety to go online and assess their symptoms and access  immediate help.

Figures show mental illness disproportionately affects young people and those on lower and middle incomes with over half of mental health problems starting by the age of 14 and 75 percent by age 18.

The mental health charity Mind has warned of the dangers of social media for young people. While it can help some children feel less isolated – especially those who struggle with friendships – it also comes with some risks.

“Its instantaneous and anonymous nature means it's easy for people to make hasty and sometimes ill-advised comments that can negatively affect other people's mental health,” according to Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind.

Tom Burkard, visiting professor of education policy at the University of Derby School of Education, told SC Media UK that May's approach to promoting mental health in schools has been tried and discredited already.

Referring to a 2010 assessment of SEAL, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning, he said: “You can see we've already had almost exactly the same proposal, and it was abandoned by the [Conservative - Liberal Democrat government] Coalition. The only new twist is cyber-bullying, which of course has been going on for a very long time. My contacts who are still teaching tell me that there are still long waiting lists at CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] for children seeking help.”

Teachers, Burkard said, already work an average of 55 hours a week and in schools that have been deemed by Ofsted to be require improvement they can work 65-70 hours a week. “To expect schools to take on more duties is just grandstanding,” he said. “It won't have any impact.”

Claire Stead, online safety expert at Smoothwall which provides online safety solutions, welcomed extra training for teachers on how to cope with cyber-bullying but added: “Training teachers on the fundamentals of cyberbullying isn't enough... schools also need a smart, proactive approach to content filtering and monitoring. While it's not possible to completely eradicate cyber-bullying, if educational establishments have both the smartest web filtering and monitoring in action, they then have a layered defence to help protect children from all kinds of nasty threats online,” she said.